Football News (Part I)

I am writing this while following the U-20 South American Championship, which is currently in progress.  Chile beat Colombia 3-1 and Uruguay reached the Olympics at Argentina’s expense.  Yes, believe it or not Uruguay beat Argentina 1-0.  Soy Celeste! It is still too early to determine whether Uruguay will win the tournament, but at this point it matters not; the Olympics were always the main goal.  Uruguay as a footballing nation has much too be proud of.  After a spectacular World Cup, it looks like a new generation is coming up to continue the achievements of the current one.  It would be very nice to see football’s first great champion rejoin the ranks of the the world elite.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

So what does this mean?  Well, I don’t know yet other than the fact that Uruguay is going to the Olympics and Argentina is mathematically incapable of winning this tournament.  If Brazil beats Ecuador, then Brazil will probably get the other Olympic spot, although that is not a guarantee.  The final match of the tournament will be Brazil v. Uruguay.  Shades of the Maracanazo perhaps?  Probably not.

Either Argentina or Brazil is not making the Olympics this year, which is a huge deal in Latin America (even though it will just be junior teams.)  I am sure fans in both nations are on edge, especially in Argentina.  If Brazil wins, Argentinians will have to root for a Uruguay victory on Saturday.  If Ecuador wins, well both Argentina and Brazil will have to pray that Chile can beat a better team.  My guess is no.

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Speaking of Argentina, the never-ending, media-created war between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo offered up yet another battle today in a completely meaningless international friendly.  How would Messi do without the force of Barcelona behind him?  Well, Argentina won, 2-1 proving that their destruction of Spain was no fluke (although in fairness to Spain given the timing of the match and the travel, La Furia Roja had no chance.)  Messi scored the winning goal in the 89th minute (a penalty), assisted Ángel Di María for Argentina’s first goal, and was generally the best player out there today.  Cristiano Ronaldo scored Portugal’s lone goal, although the media declared Messi the winner.  Once again though the story was about Messi’s teamwork and how covered the entire pitch.  The takeaway: Portugal are an effective but limited side, and Argentina are capable of both brilliant play (Messi and the offense) and near self-destruction (the defense).  We already knew all this.  Sergio Batista’s task is to ensure that there is more brilliant play and less self-destruction, although he is fighting the weight of history.

[ed: As I write this, Brazil’s u20 side is beating Ecuador 1-0 in the 27th minute.  I sense this is going to be a long night for both Ecuador and Argentina.]

Not much else of interest out of the friendlies except that Liechtenstein can win a match if it plays fellow minnow San Marino (1-0).  Also, Bolivia is so bad they cannot even beat Latvia (2-1).

The big question about these friendlies is why?  It’s horrible timing, a week before the Champions League resumes.  The calendar is already too congested.  I feel like I write about one international tournament after another.  FIFA could have waited a few weeks for this round of friendlies, closer to the next round of  the Euro 2012 qualifiers.  At least then there would be some seeming purpose.

FIFA is killing the international game, as evidenced by how little interest there was for these matches.  The matches today only reinforced what we already knew: Germany cannot beat Italy (they drew 1-1 despite the Germans leading most of the match); France always beats Brazil (1-0); Spain will tiki-taka opposition to death (1-0 over Colombia, the goal being scored at the very end despite 77% possession for Spain); The Netherlands are very good and Austria are not (3-1); and England can win when nothing is on the line (2-1 over Denmark).

The clubs are starting to get fed up, and they are just as bloated and powerful as FIFA is.  When the inevitable battle comes, I hope FIFA falls hard.

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The best news that I heard today was from Grant Wahl over at SI.com.  In his mailbag this week he said that CONMEBOL wants MLS teams to compete at the Copa Libertadores.  Of course he also said that MLS has heard nothing from CONMEBOL about it, and it is quite a ways off from happening.  However, if it does happen (please, please, please!) I would watch any MLS team’s matches in a heartbeat either on television or at a nearby US stadium.  And you know that the MLS teams would take the Copa Libertadores far more seriously than they do the CONCACAF Champions League.

[ed: 53 minutes into the the Brazil/Ecuador match, and Brazil is still leading 1-0.]

Before leaving the Copa Libertadores, I should mention that the group stages started today in Rio de Janeiro with a match between Brazil’s national league champion Fluminense took on Argentina’s 2010 Clausura winner Argentinos Juniors.  It ended up a 2-2 draw.  This is a tough, tough group too.  Not only are the champions of Brazil and Argentina in this group, but also perennial Uruguayan powerhouse Nacional and Mexico’s América.  I cannot wait to see how this tournament unfolds.

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